Reducing Healthcare Waste Through Systemic Design

Format: Papers, RSD11, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Health & Well-being

Tom Ainsworth,1 Heather Baid,1 Ryan Woodard,1 Dipak Sarker,1 Charis Nathan,1 Mahmood Bhutta,2,3 Patricia McCready,4 Oliver Slaughter,5 and Jennifer Drake5

University of Brighton (1) | Brighton and Sussex Medical School (2) |  University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (3) | Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (4) | Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust (5)

Possibilities and practices for sustainable healthcare

The healthcare sector produces substantial amounts of clinical and non-clinical waste, which creates a significant financial cost and environmental footprint to safely dispose of and manage the waste, in addition to sustainability implications for producing, transporting and using healthcare products.  This participatory research project is a multi-partner collaboration between a university and three healthcare organisations to explore possibilities and identify new practices to reduce healthcare waste for improved sustainability.  The multi-disciplinary research team includes design, materials science, waste, sustainability and healthcare professionals, therefore providing a range of perspectives.  A mixed methods approach will use focus groups with healthcare staff and analysis of procurement data to identify highly consumed items and those with a high level of waste, as well as explore the systemic challenges causing the waste. For instance, waste resulting from over-packaging, pre-packaged items containing unnecessary components, systemic inefficiencies and poor waste management practices. Inventories will be conducted of shortlisted items to describe their lifecycle, weight, associated packaging and composition. This evaluation will include a detailed analysis of materials to identify the types of plastic and makeup of composite materials and to better understand their function, recyclability, and reusability. Recommendations for sustainable alternatives and systemic redesign will be fed back to the three participating healthcare organisations in a follow-up workshop.  This work-in-progress presentation to the RSD11 conference will share key findings from the design component of the project as a report of the ongoing research.  The research team will be responsive to comments received during the conference presentation to further enhance the analysis of how systemic design can contribute to reducing healthcare waste.

KEYWORDS: Waste, healthcare, systemic design, sustainability, environmental footprint

Citation Data

Author(s): Tom Ainsworth, Heather Baid, Ryan Woodard, Dipak Sarker, Charis Nathan, Mahmood Bhutta, Patricia McCready, Oliver Slaughter, and Jennifer Drake
Year: 2022
Title: Reducing Healthcare Waste Through Systemic Design
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 155
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 21 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

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Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

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